Warren Zevon, Singer-Songwriter, Dies at 56
from hte NY Times:
Warren Zevon, Singer-Songwriter, Dies at 56
By JON PARELES
arren Zevon, a singer and songwriter who came up with hard-boiled stories and tender confessions of love, died on Sunday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 56.
The cause was cancer, which was diagnosed last summer.
Mr. Zevon had a pulp-fiction imagination that yielded songs like "Werewolves of London," "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me," "Lawyers, Guns and Money" and "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead." They were terse, action-packed, gallows-humored tales that could sketch an entire screenplay in four minutes and often had death as a punchline. But there was also vulnerability and longing in Mr. Zevon's ballads, like "Mutineer," "Accidentally Like a Martyr" and "Hasten Down the Wind."
Behind Mr. Zevon's stoic baritone, the music changed with its central instrument. His piano songs suggested marches, hymns and the harmonies of Aaron Copland, while his guitar songs connected rock, Celtic and country music .
Mr. Zevon made his last album, "The Wind" (Artemis), knowing that his time was running out. In August 2002, a week after deciding to start a new album, Mr. Zevon felt chest pains while exercising and eventually went to see a physician for the first time in 20 years.
A lifelong smoker, Mr. Zevon was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of tumor that can occur in the membranes around the lungs, that had advanced too far for treatment, and given a few months to live. He chose to work on the album, completed it and lived to see it released this year, on Aug. 26. In an interview last year, he said that the diagnosis had led to "the intensest creative period of my life."
Mr. Zevon was prized by other songwriters. Bob Dylan performed his songs on stage and appeared on "The Wind" along with Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Ry Cooder and Dwight Yoakam. Mr. Springteen has described Mr. Zevon as writing about "the good, the bad and the ugly" and called him "a moralist in cynic's clothing."
Mr. Zevon was born in Chicago but grew up in Arizona and Los Angeles. His father, he said in an interview, was a Russian-Jewish gangster; his mother was a Mormon and often in fragile health. Mr. Zevon studied classical piano, idolizing composers like Stravinsky and Copland, and picked up guitar as a teenager. When his parents divorced, he drove a sports car his father had won in a card game to New York City to try to make it on the folk circuit.
But he had better luck in Los Angeles, where he formed the duo Lyme and Cybelle with a friend, Tule Livingstone, and began getting his songs heard. The Turtles made one of his songs, "Like the Seasons," the B side of the hit single "Happy Together," providing royalties that paid his rent for years.
Mr. Zevon's first album, "Wanted Dead or Alive," was released in 1969 and widely ignored. He worked around Los Angeles, writing commercial jingles and leading the Everly Brothers' backup band. And he made his way into the coterie of songwriters, among them Jackson Browne and J.D. Souther, that was bringing new depth to the California soft-rock of the mid-1970's.
Linda Ronstadt chose "Hasten Down the Wind" to be the title song of her 1976 album, the same year that Jackson Browne produced Mr. Zevon's major-label debut album, "Warren Zevon." Two years later, Mr. Zevon's album "Excitable Boy" reached the Top 10 with its own hit single, "Werewolves of London." He was married and divorced twice in the 1970's and 1980's, and had two children, Jordan and Ariel. They survive him along with two grandchildren. Jordan Zevon was the executive producer of "The Wind."
Success brought pressure and temptations, and Mr. Zevon succumbed: taking drugs and alcohol, toting a gun, losing control onstage. "I ran around like a psychotic," he said.
He made no albums between 1982 and 1987, and spent time in rehab. He considered alcoholism "a coward's death," he said in 1981. And he re-emerged to a steady, well-respected career. He toured and made albums that included "Transverse City" in 1989, "Mr. Bad Example" in 1991, "Mutineer" in 1995 and "Life'll Kill Ya" in 2000.
Members of R.E.M. backed Mr. Zevon on his 1987 album "Sentimental Hygiene"; other songs they recorded together were released under the name of Hindu Love Gods in 1990. In the early 1990's, Mr. Zevon also wrote theme songs and scores for television series — "Tales from the Crypt," "Route 66," "Tekwar" — and he was a frequent guest bandleader on "Late Night with David Letterman."
When he was diagnosed with cancer, Mr. Zevon was the first to recognize that songs like "My Ride's Here," about a hearse, had become self-fulfilling prophecies. "I keep asking myself how I suddenly was thrust into the position of travel agent for death," he said last year. "But then, of course, the whole point of why it's so strange is that I had already assigned myself that role so many years of writing ago." He allowed a camera crew from VH1 to make a documentary during the recording sessions.
"The Wind" has death-haunted songs like "Prison Grove" and "Keep Me in Your Heart," as well as a version of Mr. Dylan's song about a dying sheriff, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." But songs like "Disorder in the House" and "My Dirty Life and Times" maintain Mr. Zevon's old sardonic humor. While he was recording the album, Mr. Zevon said he was planning to write goodbyes to people and to make one other point: that, he said, "This was a nice deal: life."